In 1947, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald-Tribune told a story about how he came to know one of the most colorful pitchers of the first decade of the 20th Century:
“Baseball, above all other games, has known more than its share in the way of masterpieces of eccentricity. Many of these I happen to know.”
Rice went on to list some of his favorites—Rube Waddell, Crazy Schmit, Dizzy Dean—“Also, Flint Rhem, Babe Herman, Bobo Newsom, Germany Schaefer, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Arlie Latham—nits, wits, and half-wits—but all great ballplayers.” But, said Rice, “one of the leaders in this colorful field” had been all but forgotten:
“I remember Bugs because I happened to have a small part in his pitching career. I was working in Atlanta (for The Journal) when I happened to read a story that came out of Shreveport (Louisiana), about a young pitcher named Raymond who had made and won the following bet:
“That he could eat a whole turkey, drink two bottles of scotch—and win a doubleheader. He did it. I didn’t believe it at the time, but I believed it later. I recommended to either (Atlanta Crackers owner) Abner Powell or (manager) Billy Smith (44 years is a long time) that Raymond looked like a good buy. Good copy is always scarce. Raymond sounded like good copy.”
Rice’s story about the bet is likely apocryphal, there is no mention of it in contemporary newspapers in Shreveport, or in Jackson, Mississippi where Raymond played in the Cotton States League before coming to Atlanta–he also names the wrong manager–Smith came to Atlanta the following season. While Raymond probably didn’t make the bet Rice claimed, he did, on at least one occasion win both ends of a doubleheader, and he was wildly popular in Mississippi. After he was sold to Atlanta in July of 1905, The Jackson News said:
“The regret over Raymond’s departure was not one-sided. The big fellow was all broken up over the transaction.”
The paper said that although Raymond would make $200 a month in Atlanta and have a chance to return to the major leagues, leaving Jackson was difficult for him:
“During his engagement with the Jackson team he has made a host of friends and was undoubtedly the most popular player who ever donned a home uniform. The plain fact is Raymond almost owned the town. Nothing was too good for him and he always made a hatful of money on the big games, a shower of silver and greenbacks being the inevitable result of a victory in a doubleheader.”
Rice’s story about Raymond also took another real event and embellished it–either by design or through the fog of forty years.
After finishing the 1905 season with a 10-6 record for the Crackers, Raymond was picked by new Manager Billy Smith to start for Atlanta in an exhibition against the Boston Americans on March 26, 1906.
In Rice’s colorful version, he gave the incorrect date for the exhibition and wrongly claimed that he met Raymond face-to-face for the first time on the morning of the game:
“By some odd chance, before starting a mile-and-a-half walk to the ballpark, I happened to be taking a drink at some wayside bar in preparation for the trip. A heavy hand fell on my shoulder and, as I looked around, there was an unkempt-looking fellow, around 200 pounds who wore no necktie and hadn’t shaved in at least two days. Here was the king of all the tramps I’d ever seen.
“’How about buying me a drink, fellow?’ was his opening remark. I bought him a drink. Then I had to buy him another drink.
“’How do we get out to this ballpark?’ he asked.
“’We walk,’ I said, ‘if you are going with me.’ Then a sudden morbid thought hit me. ‘Isn’t your name Raymond?’ I asked.
“’Yes,” he said ‘Bugs Raymond.’
“I figured then what my recommendation to the Atlanta team was worth. Something less than two cents.
“’Do you happen to know,’ I suggested, ‘that you are pitching today against the Boston Americans?’
“’I never heard of ‘em,’ Bugs said. ‘Where’s Boston?’
“On the walk to the ballpark that afternoon Bugs spent most of the trek throwing rocks at pigeons, telegraph poles and any target in sight. People I had known in Atlanta gave me an odd look after taking a brief glance at my unshaven, rough and rowdy looking companion.”
Once at the ballpark, Rice said:
“Raymond started the game by insulting Jimmy Collins…and every star of the Boston team. He would walk from the pitcher’s box up towards the plate and let them know, in forcible and smoking language, what he thought they were.”
In Rice’s version, the cocky, seemingly drunk Raymond shuts Boston out 3-0 on three hits. He got those details wrong as well, and Raymond’s performance was just as incredible without the embellishments.
The Atlanta Constitution said on the day after the game:
“No better than bush leaguers looked the Boston Americans…yesterday afternoon at Piedmont Park, when ‘Bugs’ Raymond came near to scoring a no-hit game against the bean-eating crew, who escaped a shut-out through two errors made by (Morris “Mike”) Jacobs in the eighth inning.
“Score—Atlanta 4, Boston 2.
“’Bugs’ was there with the goods. Boston hitter after hitter stepped up to the plate, pounded the pan, looked fierce for awhile, and then went the easy out route.
“’Bugs’ was in his glory. It was in the eighth inning before a single hit or run was scored off his delivery
“As inning after inning went by, the Boston sporting writers along with the team began to think of the possibility of defeat, and, about the seventh inning, when it looked strangely like a shutout game, they pulled out their books of excuses and began to look for the proper one to use in Tuesday morning’s newspapers.
“The one finally agreed upon at a conference of all four writers read like this:
“’The eyes of the Boston players were dimmed by the flying moisture from the spit-ball delivery of one ‘Bugs’ Raymond, who let himself out at full steam, while our pitchers were waiting for the opening of the coming season. It does a major league club good to be beaten every now and then, anyway.”
Given Raymond’s alcoholism, there might be some truth Rice’s embellishments although there is no evidence for most of his version.
The performance against Boston was quickly forgotten as Raymond just as quickly wore out his welcome with Manager Billy Smith. On May 6 he was suspended indefinitely because, as The Constitution put it “(Raymond) looks with delight in wine when it is red.” On May 31, Atlanta sold Raymond to the Savannah Indians in the South Atlantic leagues. An 18-8 mark there, followed by a 35-11 season with the Charleston Sea Gulls in the same league in 1907, earned Raymond his return to the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals.
By 1912, the pitcher, about whom Rice claimed John McGraw said “Even half sober Raymond would have been one of the greatest,” was dead.